Winter Comforter

I’ve already used this blog to record some thoughts about having added my dog, India, to my life; a special focus of gratitude.

She has helped me make regular walks part of my daily routine.  She has taught me about the virtue of having a short-term memory; about starting each day with enthusiasm (after all, it’s new, right?) and about not holding a grudge. She’ll greet me warmly when I come home even after I withheld a treat earlier in the day.

She constantly teaches me about non-verbal communications, even though I can’t always figure out why she decides to bark.

Lately, she’s been demonstrating a level of empathy I wish more humans could command.

Since before the first of the year, I have not been feeling well.  I had a bad cough that, while lessening in severity and frequency, has managed to stick with me.  About two weeks ago, I also started to have pain in my lower back and left hip area.

I don’t know if the problem started from pulling a muscle when I coughed, or if I stood in front of my standing desk incorrectly, or if my respiratory infection traveled to affect my piriformis muscle, or what, but It has been painful to walk, and even more painful to descend stairs.

I can’t forego my three-a-day walks with my pooch, but some days, my dog-walking represents most of my physical activity.  Even when hanging around the house, I try to cut down the number of times I will visit the kitchen from my living room couch during evening TV time.  I have been moving around gingerly, for sure.  Infrequently as possible.

India knows something is off.

She has gone through periods before where she will follow me around closely, like I might disappear if I slipped into another room.

She’ll stretch out on her side for hours when I’m in my office working on the computer.  She’ll also drop her green ball in front of me when I’ve given up on locating it after losing interest in a game of Go Fetch; ever aware of the importance of keeping me engaged.

But her attention these past few weeks has been different.  Less urgent. Gentler. I don’t know if I can say thoughtful, but I do feel like she is trying to read me, what level of activity I can handle.

I might decide to lie down in the afternoon, whether for a nap or just to get off my feet.  She’ll follow me.

Although only about 24 pounds, I don’t pick her up.  She does not like it.  Yet, I can tell that she wants to be as close to me as possible.

Somehow, she flies up over the foot of my bed and tentatively pads her way forward until she finds a place by my side.

She’ll walk in a tight circle in the middle of my bed then nuzzle up by my side.  Sometimes, she’ll lie on her back, almost begging me to rub her belly, making me forget my pain, and sometimes, she’ll tuck her legs underneath her and just stretch out next to me.

I’ll run my hand through her wavy fur.  It’s too long, but considering the cold weather, I won’t have it cut for a couple months.

She lets me run my fingers over her skin.  I think she enjoys it. I know she enjoys the attention. She doesn’t move.  She stirs with concern when I go on a coughing jag then settles back down when I get quiet again.

I think she knows I find peace in her proximity, especially when I’m not feeling well.  It’s great to be able to lie down and grab a handful of curly fur or puppy butt.

If I could only teach her how to make chicken soup…

I listen to her heavy and regular breathing when she joins me in bed. I take enormous comfort from her presence.  I might laugh at the irony of having a king-sized bed while I feel almost pushed to one edge because of where my black and white fur ball decides to claim as her space; she who answers to me calling her name only twenty percent of the time.

Sleeping with someone who loves you unconditionally, especially when you’re not feeling well — no matter the species – is no small thing.

A Thank You Lesson

Missed me?

Maybe you’ve noticed that I haven’t been posting for a couple weeks.   Two (or maybe it’s been three) weeks ago, I stared at an unfamiliar screen on my Mac.

It was mostly blank. Dark, slate gray from chrome end to chrome end except for a small white circle with a diagonal line running across it.  It sort of looked like an international warning symbol used in signs advising things like NO SWIMMING or NO SMOKING.

It turned out to mean NO EMAIL. NO GOOGLING. NO BLOGGING.

I couldn’t believe it.  I checked my email only hours earlier.  And now it felt like my Mac was mocking me.  In its blankness, in its refusal to display my familiar PC desktop, I felt lost.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was about to embark on a profound journey into EXPECTATIONS  and GRATITUDE.

After quickly consulting with friends who are more computer savvy than moi, I was introduced to probable causes.  The consensus was that either one of the files that launch automatically during start-up had been corrupted, or I had a bad drive.

I called my computer guy (and most woman over fifty know what I’m talking about), and he concurred.  As he lives far away, we decided I might be best calling Apple Support and probably making an appointment with the nearest Apple store.

I bundled up for my subway trip to Apple’s glass box on North & Clybourn.  I checked in and waited for my technician to visit me at one of their open tables.

After running a few tests, he concurred that they could perform repairs but noted that it might be costly and he would offer “No guarantee” on being able to retrieve my data.

While I have used a back-up service for years, I got no feeling from the Apple tech that they would work with my service and re-assemble my computer anywhere close to where it was.   Like a mantra, he kept repeating No guarantee.  No guarantee.

In the hive of activity that is the Lincoln Park Apple Store, like a game show contestant asking the host to use their LIFELINE, I asked my tech to let me make a call before I decided on service.  I called a good friend who established a three-way connection with her son, who was a computer professional.  After some discussion, I decided to bring my Mac to Max.

I gave him all my passwords, including instructions for connecting with my data back-up service, as well as permission to spend whatever necessary for the repair.

I wanted to get my PC up and running like it operated BEFORE.

A few days later, he called to advise my machine was ready to be picked up.  I thanked him and arranged a time to swing by.  I was grateful for his quick attention.

When I arrived at his home, we established a new password, and then he confirmed the process I needed to go through to get my data files from Mozy (my data back-up service).

Oh no, I thought, my computer was nowhere near a state where I could use it.

After installing a new drive and re-installing the newest operating system, he thought his job was done.

It dawned on me that his typical clients knew what they needed to do for standard operations.  I was not.  Realizing he was probably not the best person for the next stage of my return to wired normalcy, I thanked him for his quick service and was determined to follow his instructions for retrieving my data.

Of course, there was a hang-up in the all-night download. I was back on the phone to Chester, my computer guy, begging for additional help.

I asked myself if I expected to be rescued.   No, I don’t think so.  I took precautions to save my data, but probably could have prepared for this situation better.

I accepted the idea that I had to do more work myself and that I had to re-learn some things.  I couldn’t click the heels of my ruby slippers and wish to be transported to the view I had of my computer desktop before it went dark on me.

But I realized how easy and automatic it is for me to say THANK YOU to all sorts of things; things as simple as finding a parking space close to a destination, or a seeing a beautiful sunset from my office window, or getting a slightly used garment from a friend who no longer wore it.

It’s easy to say THANK YOU when you have no expectations.  It’s much harder to feel gratitude when you have a notion of how things SHOULD BE.

Ah, but being human, it’s hard not to WANT what you want.

I can’t be inauthentic.  I can’t say THANKS when I don’t feel gratitude.

I tried to break my experience into separate stages.

I was grateful to the Apple Store tech for confirming the problem and for giving me time to consult with friends before I decided on my action.

I was grateful for my friend’s son for making himself available for a consultation and addressing needed hardware repairs.

I was grateful to Chester, my computer guy, for both using my back-up service and my damaged hard drive to re-assemble my directories as much as possible, for buying and installing the newest version of Office for Mac.  Getting operational took longer than I would have liked, but I never felt I was facing the challenge alone.

I was grateful to all my friends who recommended I start using Time Machine for back-up as soon as possible. (And I am grateful I can forgive myself for not looking into this earlier.)

I realized that even though I felt discombobulated during the past few weeks (and still have work ahead of me to re-construct bookmarks in browsers and such), I experienced interactions with others with a genuinely grateful heart. I understood that these people were trying to make things better.

Re-tracing a period of recent history in baby steps with an eye towards the best intentions of everyone involved is no small thing.


New Tires

Like most other Midwesterners, I have greeted the new year by indulging in typical January fantasies.

I have given dream space to whisking away to a warm-weather destination (within three-hours by plane) or a high-end spa (thirty minutes by Uber) where I could feel peaceful and pampered, where my biggest worry would be how much to tip.

But before I let my mind travel too far down this road, I considered how much of my Christmas bonus would be left after bills and budgeting for my February property tax installment. (Like I said, I’m a Midwesterner.)

I also thought about my car, a 2013 Toyota, approaching 40,000 miles. It needed care and attention, too.

This past week, while the roads were dry, and my workload was small, I made an appointment for my car. Whatever it needed, I told myself.

It was no surprise when the mechanic/manager, after dropping off the car at 8:00 AM, called me back at 10:00 with an estimate. Donatella Corolla (I have a tradition of naming my cars) did need an oil change, a few different types of filters, and a set of tires.

There was no question about having the work done, no issue about making the purchase, but I found myself contemplating the meaning of the expenditure. I didn’t want to frame it in terms of what fun thing I couldn’t allocate my cash to because I HAD to pay for car maintenance.

I remember an old theory of sales and marketing that basically says that people don’t spend money on things, on innovative electronics, or fancy threads. The bill for an incredible twelve-course meal cannot be broken into dollars per course.

People don’t buy things, or even experiences. People spend money on how they think the thing will make them feel, on some quality they want that they associate with owning the thing or having the experience.

Status, being the first on their block (or in their office), youth, a romantic notion of uniqueness or being a sort of rebel – these are examples of what people actually want to BUY.

So, I asked myself what I was hoping to get from the well rated, but modest, set of all-weathers.

I liked the fact that no one could accuse me of negligence or of being irresponsible.

I used to have a mechanic friend who would joke with me about the ploys a manufacturer would use to create income for their dealers’ service centers.

Do you know what to do when this light on you dashboard goes on? he would ask rhetorically... Cover the light with electrical tape.

But the car’s original tires were rated for 40,000 miles, and 40,000 is 40,000. This was not a case of a manufacturer setting up their aftermarket. Wear and tear is real.

I considered greater control and safety — confidence — as the qualities I hoped to acquire. And, in the most direct sense, this was true. I don’t like winter driving to begin with, and new tires makes the prospect of getting somewhere on slick roads much easier to live with.

But in conducting this little what’s in it for me exercise, I reminded myself that all the decisions I make are made in support of my best interests. It behooves me to take time and contemplate what actions are really in my best interest in different situations.

I’ve made greater self-care my theme and goal for the year. I have exercise goals and social goals, and goals related to creative projects I want to re-visit, if not finish. But, ultimately, I want to consider every decision, every action, from the lens of self-care.

Yes, my tires were rated to need replacement at this time, but I actually made the purchase because I WANTED TO TAKE GOOD CARE OF MYSELF.

Being aware that popping for new treads for my travels is in line with my larger goal –- taking good care of myself — is no small thing.


Revenge of the Eccentric Aunt

I finally got my Christmas tree disassembled and boxed; ornaments wrapped in excess tissue paper and nestled safely in their festively decorated tin. My cough, which has been with me for almost three weeks, is, at long last, on its way out.

I’m resuming my normal working life, scheduling car maintenance appointments and putting my 2018 resolutions in writing. Yes, I’ve been a bit reflective.

I hosted a Christmas Eve family gathering at my place. My older sister doesn’t bother with a tree, and my niece, visiting with her husband from South Carolina, welcomed the thought of making my place a first stop for dinner and a gift exchange before heading off for cookies and a visit from Santa with the Irish Catholic side of her family.

I was eager to turn the tables on her, on her experiences of gift exchanges when she was a child. What a haul she would make!

Before her sister Emma showed up (almost 11 years after her arrival), Liz was the only child in our family. Her mother, being raised in a Jewish home, romanticized about the Christmas holiday. She loved to decorate a tree and had a slew of favorite Silver Palate cookbook cookie recipes.

My sister would throw her Gidget Goes Goyish party the Saturday before Christmas, complete with heavily spiked mulled wine, and she hosted a casual Christmas Eve dinner and gift-exchange before heading off to husband’s Uncle Leo’s house for a major gathering of the clan.

My mother would wrap Liz’s presents in Hanukkah blue wrapping paper, and my eldest sister Barb might include a song about lighting a menorah when she performed her traditional short set at the family piano, but make no mistake, the highlight of the evening was Christmas presents.

For a few years, it was fun to watch Liz tear into the colorful wrapping paper then it got to be a bit of a drag for me. Witnessing her natural childhood exuberance morph into almost a sense of entitlement gnawed at me. I don’t know if it was because I didn’t like the holiday focus on material things or because I never felt like the center of attention in my family and was simply jealous, but I didn’t enjoy the ritual.

So, I started a Christmas tradition of messing with Liz’s Christmas present experience.   When she was nine or so, I brought over a large wrapped box and put it under the tree. When it came time to unwrap her presents, she was eager to start on the mystery box.

After, taking off the bow carefully, and ripping off the paper less carefully, upon opening the box, she discovered a smaller wrapped box inside. Like Russian Matryoshka (nesting) dolls, that box contained another wrapped box, and that box another wrapped box, an on and on. I seem to recall she had to unwrap nine boxes (one for each year of age) before she actually got to a small gift of hair barrettes.

She rolled her eyes at me. A lot of hype for very little pay-off. She was not a happy camper.

The next year, I brought 10 small boxes, each wrapped individually, but the presents they contained were very unglamorous. I brought things like socks, a can of soup, and bar of soap. My gesture was a metaphorical way to say Be careful what you ask for…. She got lots of presents…but none were very impressive.

The next year, I bought her some sort of educational software package. Under the tree, I placed sealed clues on where she could find it. (I didn’t put a box under the tree.) She didn’t like this either.

She didn’t want to play a game to get her Christmas booty. She actually got bored and gave up looking until one of the boys from next door came over and thought the game was fun and helped Liz solve the mystery of her present’s location (hidden in the basement dryer).

Now that I was hosting Christmas Eve, I had the chance to turn the tables on her. I bought presents for myself and saved small gifts from friends, which I placed under my tree, so I could open lots of gifts in the company of my family.

It took longer for me to unwrap my gifts than it took anyone else.

Liz poured herself another glass of wine and smiled. Watching me in my child-like. flawed adult glee, she remarked…

Remember when you gave me a box within a box within a box? I was really mad at you……That was pretty funny.

Being forgiven by the adult version of the child who swore she would never forgive you is no small thing.